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Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 September 2018

Fjord fiesta: travelling through Norway in a Tesla Model X

The writer puts the car through its paces in Norway’s countryside, with his 13-year-old cousin riding shotgun

Scenes of Trollstigen lookout point in Norway, overlooking the valley

It takes remarkably little time for Noah, my 13-year-old cousin, to settle into the particular smugness that comes with being in a Tesla. We may only have the Model X for a few days, and of course Noah doesn’t get to do any of the driving, but we’ve barely left Oslo before he’s laughing at other conventional cars’ ­inability to match our lightning speed.

That we have come to Norway for an electric road trip is absolutely no accident. At the end of last year, Tesla was the number one selling car brand of any type here. Added to that, electric car ownership is the highest here, of anywhere in the world. So high, in fact, that when you arrive in Oslo airport, electric cars are an expensive option from most rental outfits. Or at least they are if you don’t go with Tesla which, to add to that sense of superiority, allows its users to top up the car at one of its branded superchargers absolutely free of charge.

The Tesla MX that Jamie and Noah travelled in. Jamie Lafferty

Of all the car’s features, this is the one that appeals to me most and matters to Noah least. This is his first time in Northern Europe, which is exciting in itself, but not quite as thrilling as being in this weird sci-fi-mobile. His favourite school subject is computing, and while Tesla has some shortcomings, technology and gadgetry it absolutely does not lack. “Look at this! Why would anyone want to do this?” asks Noah, using the electric controls to put his seat in an unnaturally forward leaning angle. Every time we stop, he relishes in opening the dramatic falcon doors, mostly so he can then press the button that closes them all simultaneously.

We’re heading out to Åndalsnes in western Norway, 420 kilometres from our starting point in the capital. This is more than the car can manage in one charge, meaning we’ll definitely need to stop.

While I focus on the road, Noah inputs the destination into the sat-nav, which duly plans our route, factoring in how many stops we’ll require and how long we’ll need to charge for – once, it turns out, in Lillehammer for about an hour while we get some lunch. (A couple of days later we instead stay at the Clarion Collection Lillehammer and use its destination charger to power-up overnight).

“Do you think Elon Musk knows we’re driving this?” asks Noah when we’re back on the road. I decide not to debate the Tesla chief executive’s perceived megalomania or hostility towards journalists, and instead punch the accelerator. This makes us both giggle at the car’s freakish ability to zip to (but obviously not exceed) the speed limit. While this is fun for its own sake, it’s also very useful for efficiently overtaking on roads that get increasingly twisty as we follow the colossal fjords west towards the ocean.

Jamie Lafferty and his cousin, Noah

I consider explaining this practical use to Noah, but his mind is elsewhere. “In the future, when all the cars are self-driving, do you think when there’s an accident the AI will decide who lives and who dies based on the lives they’ve had?” A bit unsure about how to proceed with this sinister line of questioning, I let the Tesla get me out of the hole. The Model X also has a full Spotify account and I use its voice command function to load The Prodigy’s Diesel Power. The irony of listening to this particular song in a whisper-quiet electric car may be lost on Noah, but I was his age when it first came out and I remember it sounding impossibly futuristic. As the brontosaurian bass crashes in with so much force the wing mirrors quiver, I look across, see him nod in approval, and once more our robotic future seems wonderful.

Outside, the Norwegian countryside seems to belong to a different kind of fantasy, one populated by elves and dwarves, created by the mind of J R R Tolkien. The steepness of the valley walls is endlessly breathtaking, and each time we emerge from a long tunnel, the countryside seems to explode with renewed drama. “Awesome,” says Noah. I’m not sure if he knows just how correct his phrasing is.

Located in the Rauma Municipality, scenic Andalsnes is marketed as the “mountaineering capital of Norway”. While Noah and I don’t have the time or strength for that, it also means that this neat little town, nestled on the shores of Romsdalsfjord and the mouth of the Rauma River, is incredibly pretty.

We’ve been driving all day when we arrive, but after a quick and pricey dinner, we decided to use the last of the daylight and the 32 per cent of the battery remaining in the car to explore a little more. Just half an hour outside of town, Trollstigen is one of the most famous roads in Norway, a crumpled serpent that climbs a valley, repeatedly hopping over a waterfall. At other times of the day, especially during summer, it can get quite congested, but Noah and I have this late evening to ourselves while the last of the sun disappears over the valley summit.

The following day, rather than go back the way we came, we decide to make an enormous, impractical loop, heading out to Kristiansund on the west coast, then travelling along the remarkable Atlantic Ocean Road.

The Norwegian countryside. Jamie Lafferty 

This includes a trip through the Atlantic Ocean Tunnel, an almost 6km-long wonder of modern engineering that disappears 250 metres below the sea and emerges near Vevang. As we pop back out into the ­daylight a toll booth is waiting for us, ready to charge over Dh100 for the privilege. Scrambling for the money, Noah laughs when I moan that “at least the Vikings had the decency to come at us with axes” but no sooner have I said this than the lovely lady in the booth is telling me that electric cars are exempt from the charge.

It’d be wrong to describe that as the highlight of the trip, but as I put the foot down and the car surges silently forward, we both feel a little triumphant.

Flights

Emirates offer direct flights to Oslo from Dubai from Dh3,295 return.

Accommodation

Located in the former Winter Olympic city of Lillehammer, the Clarion Collection Lillehammer is the nicest hotel in town and also offers a Tesla destination charger, making it an ideal stop on the road north from Oslo. www.nordicchoicehotels.com

Driving

Avis have a limited selection of Teslas for hire at Oslo Airport. Alternatively, local supplier Whitecar (white.car) deliver Tesla rentals to locations around the Norwegian capital. Refuelling free at Tesla superchargers, but will be charged elsewhere. Also, while the car is exempt from road tolls, charges on ferries still apply.

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